What started as a list of 25 candidates two weeks ago has been pared to just five in the search to find a new Manchester High School head football coach to replace the retired Jim France.

“We’d like to have someone to send to the (school) board for consideration by the board meeting on May 19,” Manchester Schools Superintendent Dr. James Robinson said Thursday. “That’s the goal, and we certainly hope, and expect, that we can get it done.

“But you never know. We’ve had teaching job searches over the years in which we’ve picked a candidate to send to the board, and they’ve come back to us at the 11th hour and said, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I no longer want the job.’ Then you have to circle back and pick someone else, and that takes more time. So, you never know. But we’re pointing toward the 19th. We’ll see.

Robinson said the search committee will conduct what he called “first-level” interviews of the five candidates, and a further pared-down list of finalists – “between two and four, but probably more like two to three” – will get “second-level” interviews, after which the committee will determine its selection. When Manchester recently conducted the search for a new high school head girls basketball coach that resulted in the hiring of A.J. Hite, there were three finalists who received second-level interviews.

“If we get too many finalists, then we have to go back and look at the job we’re doing because that’s too many,” Robinson said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good candidates for this job, but you still have to find the differences in them, make the tough decisions to reduce the list and send those people forward.”

According to Robinson, all of the five remaining candidates, none of whom teach or coach in the Manchester district, have high school coaching experience, and one also has college coaching experience as an assistant.

“I value high school coaching experience more than the college coaching,” Robinson said. “The last time we did this (following the 1984 season when France was forced to step down after becoming high school principal), we picked a college coach (longtime University of Akron offensive line coach Tom Flaherty) and it didn’t work out very well.”

The Panthers finished 2-8 in 1985, which is still their only losing record since 1968, and Flaherty and the players never got on the same page, which resulted in a number of boys quitting. France was asked to return for the following season, which he agreed to do, and remained until announcing his retirement March 14, ending a 49-year career, the last 48 of which were spent at Manchester, as the state’s all-time winningest coach.

“We’ve had kids who have gone on to play Division I, Division II and Division III college football, but for the most part at Manchester, we don’t have 6-foot-4 tackles with a seven-foot wingspan. We have the 145-pound kids,” said Robinson, who spent 40 years as a Panthers assistant coach, most of them as defensive coordinator. “So, it’s not the college coaching experience, but rather the high school coaching experience, that helps you to be able to deal with that fact and make it work.

“Again, this is obviously a high-profile coaching search for our school and the Manchester community, so we want to find the best coach for our type of kids.”